Lab tests, lab tests everywhere, but not a result reviewed?

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Aug 18, 2012 in Personal Injury

If you have ever watched television shows set in hospital emergency rooms, you have probably noticed that as doctors and nurses are rushing to save a patient's life, someone starts to bark orders for all sorts of tests. If you have ever been in an emergency room -- yes, even one in Charleston -- you may remember being drained of vial after vial of blood by a lab technician.

Your own experience probably included a doctor telling you the results of the blood tests, but does anyone remember George Clooney going through lab results on "ER"? Not really. And, sadly, it turns out he wouldn't be alone.

A study published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that about 3 percent of tests ordered in a hospital -- and ordered for inpatients, not emergency room patients -- were not reviewed by anyone before the patient was discharged. When the researchers looked deeper, they discovered that almost half of those still hadn't been reviewed two months later.

This is a problem, as one family discovered. Their 12-year-old son died of septic shock. He may have survived if someone had reviewed his test results.

Sepsis is not an easy diagnosis. Several factors together indicate the possibility of a systemic infection, and best practices dictate that the moment that possibility comes to light, the patient should get plenty of antibiotics. When this boy visited the emergency room, the medical staff ordered a whole battery of tests. The results came back after he'd gone home, though, and no one reviewed them. It was a fatal mistake.

In addition to the patient care issues that come up when test results are ignored, there are cost issues, as well. In the sample of more than 660,000 tests, about 20,000 were unread. If the care team didn't follow up, were the tests even medically necessary? If not, hospitals could save a good deal of money by eliminating the unnecessary tests. And, if there were fewer test results to review, and if all of them were of value to the patient's well-being, maybe fewer would be ignored.

Source: BusinessWeek, "Doctors Fail to Review Tests Before Hospital Discharge," Nicole Ostrow, Aug. 13, 2012

Our firm handles similar situations to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Charleston, West Virginia, personal injury page.

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